From "Sun, Moon, and Talia", by Giambattista Basile.
* * *
If you've read my last book, you'll probably recognize Talia's name and backstory. There are a number of reasons I chose this piece of the Sleeping Beauty story to use in my own books, as opposed to one of the less unpleasant versions. One of the most important reasons was the paragraph above, because it's a story I've heard so many times before. Because this is something men* still do.
Not all men. Not even a majority of men. But too many. I know far too many women who were ripped awake by a man raping them. By a roommate. By a friend who crashed at her place after a party. Even by a total stranger, though stranger rapes are less common.
Men who then return to their own kingdom, thinking no more about the incident. Which forces me to ask, What the hell is wrong with us?
Let me make this as clear as I can, since so many of us seem unable to comprehend.
- Letting you crash on the couch does not equal consent.
- Drunk and passed out does not equal consent.
- Roommate sharing a house/apartment does not equal consent.
- Unconsciousness does not equal consent.
Often when I get to this point, people (men) will come back with "What if?" questions. "What if she was flirting with you before she went to sleep?" "What if you used to go out?" "What if...?" One after another, every question trying to chip away at the rules, to blur the boundaries and invent gray areas where those rules can be violated.
Consent means knowing what you and the other person want. Not guessing. Not assuming. Knowing. If you have to ask "What if?" it means you don't know, and if you don't know, the default answer is no until the other person says otherwise. You keep your hands to yourself unless and until you're invited to do differently. My four-year-old knows that. Why can't the rest of us get it through our heads?
In the fairy tale, it's not the man who rapes Talia who is the villain. The real villain of the story is the man's evil wife. (Oh yes, did I mention he's married?) The man did nothing wrong. Because he has a right to use whatever woman he chooses. Because it's the woman's job to stop the man from raping her, not the man's job to control himself. Because rape is a women's issue, and not our problem.
How long before men step up and take more responsibility to put an end to rape? Before we start teaching our children what consent means, and how to have a healthy relationship instead of a competitive/predatory one? Before we start calling one another out on the kind of sexist and abusive behaviors that encourage predation and assault?
Basile wrote this tale about 400 years ago. How sad is it that Talia's story is still so familiar today?
*"Among all rape victims identified by the survey, 85.8 percent were women and 14.2 percent were men. Nearly all of the female victims (99.6 percent) and most of the male victims (85.2 percent) were raped by a male." -2006 Violence Against Women Survey, U.S. Dept. of Justice, page 26.